Ask Julia: Getting past what you *should* say about body image.

2 min read
When my daughter laments about her body not looking how she wants, I know I’m supposed to say “its not about looks it’s about health,” but she just rolls her eyes and says, “yes it is.” I don’t have credibility. Got any advice for getting past what you *should* say?


Hi PN:

You do have credibility, and your messages are likely stored widely in her long-term memory. Your words matter now, and they also matter later, she’s just not able to process them during intense moments of lamentation. Unfortunately, in her world a lot of emphasis is placed on how she looks. You can tell her looks are not important and I can tell her the same, but let’s face it, teens are highly susceptible to peer and societal influences. Our culture places a lot of emphasis on superficiality, and right now those messages are important to her.

I am assuming you know what not to do; i.e., tell her it’s not about looks, then comment on how many calories you consumed at dinner, etc. In regard to what you can do, it sounds like you’re on the right track.

Keep telling her it isn’t about how she looks, even if she rolls her eyes and/or gets upset with you. At the same time, empathize with her and talk about the times you felt that way as a teenager, and how you moved forward. Normalize her concerns, and continue to contradict her faulty thinking – “yes, and…” opposed to “yes, but…”

Finally, give her continuous examples of how she is valued by her character, not by her looks. That can be a tough concept for teens and they often have a snarky comeback, but like I said – she hears you, even if she doesn’t have the capacity in the moment to believe you.

Thanks for writing in and keep up the healthy role modeling!

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TaylorBiobody image workbook for teens

Dr. Julia V. Taylor is a Counselor Educator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens,  The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You.  She can be reached at

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